LL Cool J impressed me as a cool young man who was smart, likable, and already accomplished back in 1995. When I first met him, NBC was introducing his sitcom In the House. He had already made a big name for himself in the music world with the rap album Mama Said Knock You Out. I’d never heard of it, but I did see him in the movie Toys with Robin Williams, and LL Cool J had a small role but a great presence on the screen.
The first thing I wanted to know was: What does LL Cool J mean? “It stands for Ladies Love Cool James,” explained the guy whose real name is James Todd Smith. It’s a great nickname that says it all.
In the House had a nice run on NBC and then on UPN, and showed Cool J’s flair for comedy. Then there were several films and TV guest starring roles revealing his intense dramatic talent, which is now showcased every week on the top-rated NCIS: Los Angeles.
Another great gig, LL Cool J is back as host of the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10 on CBS. He got a lot of praise from longtime Grammy show producer Ken Erlich during the recent TV Critics Association press tour, who said Cool J handled a difficult situation with the show last year, and “proved to be a strong presence behind the scenes leading up to the show.” It was Cool J who came up with the idea to open the event with a moment of silence and a prayer in memory of Whitney Houston. That helped balance the exuberant performances of the night with the tragic death of one of their own, without turning the event into a memorial.
For the Grammys’ 55th anniversary this year, the producers have a lot of big names including Elton John, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake, plus a lot of surprises.
In addition to hosting, Cool J is also listed as a producer but he credits Erlich as the one in charge. “The reality is, Ken is a great chef, and he has a great team around him. [The show] is like a kitchen, and you can have all the ingredients in there, but everybody can’t walk into a kitchen and make a masterpiece. All of these artists are available to a lot of producers around the world, but he [Erlich] just has a knack and understanding of how to put people together in a way that is fun, exciting, and spectacular.” He added that the input from Neil Portnow, the Recording Academy’s president and CEO is also important, along with Jack Sussman, executive vice president of specials for CBS Entertainment, “who brings in a ‘cool’ factor, and you don’t always have that coming from the network side of things.”
But it’s LL Cool J who is the face of “music’s biggest night” once again. “It’s an honor to be hosting the Grammys. I have a great relationship with CBS, and we do wonderful things together as part of this family. I have NCIS: Los Angeles (on the network) but I had a few Grammys before I got that dream gig.”
One of the key ingredients to his success as a host is the social media activity that gives Cool J instant feedback via Twitter and Facebook, which helps grow the viewership during the live broadcast. “The instantaneous feedback is one of the most wonderful things of social media, or the most annoying things about social media. If people like the performance, or the joke, or whatever is happening on stage, you know it instantly. That is a useful tool, because you get to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and maybe why. Social media has taken everyone out of the vacuum. You can’t live and operate in a bubble anymore. You can’t pretend to like something and just power through with marketing dollars behind something that really isn’t working for the general public, because now they are going to let you know.”
Cool J, 45, said he appreciates honest feedback and it helps him to present a better show each year. Tune in for the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, Feb. 10 on CBS.